May 10, 2021

The Editor Speaks: Cybercrime bills

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Colin Wilsonweb2On the surface cybercrime bills sound good. They nearly always contain legislation to punish criminals who gain unauthorised access and interference to your computer with the intention of committing an offence.

Unauthorised disclosure of password or access code, child pornography, computer forgery, computer fraud, cyber stalking and cyber-bullying are also normally criminalized in these bills.

However, along with these some politicians use the good to also legislate the bad. The bad, meaning, for you but good for them.

On the pretext of all the above, this new legislation often gives rights to any appointed security officer to take any action he/she feels fit that would infringe the privacy of an individual without warrant. The argument for this is to avoid any undue delay.

The cybercrime bill that has just been passed by the St Vincent and the Grenadines government last week is one such bill.

They have already legislation in place for print and broadcast media and there are many instances of disuse according to Anesia Baptiste, an opposition politician.

The Association of Caribbean Media Workers, the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders expressed reservations about the legislation and had written to Prime Minister Gonsalves urging that amendments be made.

Not surprisingly he did not.

In a joint statement late Friday, the four media organisations said they “are deeply concerned” by the passage of the legislation, reiterating that “several provisions of this Bill pose a serious threat to freedom of the press, the free flow of online information, and public debate.

Here it is:

We the undersigned organizations defending freedom of the press and access to information are deeply concerned by the cybercrime law adopted in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Several provisions of this bill pose a serious threat to freedom of the press, the free flow of online information, and public debate.

Defamation in print, written and broadcast media is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment under Saint Vincent’s penal code, pre-dating the adoption of the Cybercrime Law, but the new legislation extends criminal defamation to online content.

In addition to broadening criminal defamation to include online expression, the law also introduces worryingly vague and subjective definitions of cyber-harassment and cyber-bullying, both of which are punishable by imprisonment.

The negative value and chilling effect that criminal defamation places on freedom of expression and of the press have been well noted at the local, regional and international level, and states have been repeatedly called on to abolish criminal defamation laws. The issue of criminal defamation has particular importance in the Caribbean, where a similar law was adopted in Grenada in 2013 and subsequently amended after international outcry. Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana are currently considering similar legislation now under critical review by national, regional, and international stakeholders.

The steps taken in St Vincent and the Grenadines to strengthen criminal defamation laws and stifle online dissent and discussion could reverse the positive legislative trend in the Caribbean and serve as a negative example for Saint Vincent’s regional neighbors. It is therefore our view that the law as adopted today must be revised and criminal defamation must be abolished, and we urge the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines to do so as soon as possible.

Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM)

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

International Press Institute (IPI)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

END

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said the new legislation is good for the island.

Actually he should have said, the new legislation is good for him and his government.

I hope that all our local media will be on guard against similar legislation being introduced here. This is my second warning about this.

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